The Muskogee City Council passed a new anti-hate crime ordinance Monday.
The passage will make it easier to prosecute crimes meant to intimidate or harass people. City Councilors passed the ordinance unanimously, and advocates say it’s a big step in the right direction, but it’s been a long time coming.
Scott Otwell, the President of Muskogee Equality has been waiting his whole life for an ordinance like this.
“Tired of living in fear. It’s not about wanting more than anyone else. We just want to be able to go to the movies with our partners. We want to be able to buy a home without being treated different. We just want to belong," he said.
The approval is the first of its kind in Muskogee. Otwell says it closes a gap in the legal system that allowed people to get away with certain hate crimes. He says the need was made clear after someone yelled slurs at a Muskogee store clerk in June and at the time nothing could be done.
“It was a hate crime. And without the city’s ordinance it was unpunished," Otwell said.
Muskogee Mayor Marlon Coleman says that moment didn't sit well with him either.
“To do nothing at all and hope that nothing happens was not an option," he said.
Coleman says he takes hate speech against anyone seriously - and wasn't willing to wait until someone was hurt to pass an anti-hate ordinance.
“When it lends itself to hate that is threatening, that is saying to any group of people, ‘I’m going to inflict harm upon you because of who you are,’ that takes it to another level," he said.
Now those violators can face up to half a year in jail and a $750 fine.
“What it does is say to the marginalized community is that we’re here for you. That we’re not so concerned about who you are, what color you are, what gender you are. Our concern is that you’re protected," Coleman said.
“We have to make a decision to help our people now so that their blood is not on our hands later."
The ordinance went into effect immediately.